World Cup 2026 can help Miami Gardens’ turnaround

(Photo from iStock)

Between the Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff and the Miami Grand Prix, the world is used to setting its eyes on Miami Gardens. As elaborate as these events are, they may all pale in comparison to the World Cup.

The North Dade venue begins the long road toward being an international focus yet again. As one of the 11 sites to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup games at Hard Rock Stadium, leaders are calling upon all the work that has already been done in this proud community as inspiration to keep going.

Miami Gardens, which has a troubled past, has opportunities with national events to continue a transition. In 2010, Miami Gardens’ crime rate was 77% higher than the total crime rate in Florida. In 2015, the median household income in Miami Gardens was $38, 253.

With its history of violent crime, Miami Gardens unfortunately drew the unique name of “Murder Gardens” from some locals, a moniker that could alarm its visitors. But with the city’s continuous efforts to build more business and clean up the look of its streets, Miami Gardens has cultivated a new identity.

As of 2020, Miami Gardens had seen a drop in murder by 33% and its overall violent crime rate by 31%.  The city was recognized for its significant strides to improve public safety and the overall quality of life of residents in 2020. 

Changes in and around the city have much to do with the stadium. The facility was renovated in 2015 and has continued to hold onto its longstanding title as “a global entertainment destination reflective of the dynamic and international culture of Miami,” said Tom Garfinkel at the World Cup announcement last month. Garfinkel is Vice Chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium.

And the stadium has certainly been a busy “destination” lately. The star-studded Grand Prix — with celebrities aplenty among the 240,000 fans that attended the three-day event — rolled through earlier this year, as did the Miami Open tennis tournament. A college football playoff game between the Georgia Bulldogs and Michigan Wolverines was held on the final day of 2021 in front of more than 60,000 fans, and the Dolphins will open the regular season there in September.

The complex has become a playground for millions who travel in for everything from those aforementioned sporting events to music festivals. But the World Cup might be a new level for the Hard Rock.

As seasoned as Miami Gardens is with global events like these, the World Cup might just be the community’s proudest moment given its length, the potential nations that may land in the Miami field, the impact of soccer around the world, the four-year lead-up to the competition and the overall atmosphere in and around the stadium.

“It will now join the ranks of the many other world-class events we have here in the beautiful city,” Miami Gardens Mayor Rodney Harris said in a news conference last month.

While the field of teams competing in Miami has yet to be determined, the anticipation is clearly there for many in the community, especially with sports fans like Tommy Mulroy, a long-time local soccer promoter and former Miami Toros and Fort Lauderdale Strikers player.

Mulroy anticipates at least five games at Hard Rock Stadium in 2026 with “each game bringing a whole new group of tourists.”

Jazmine Santillana is a junior majoring in journalism. After her studies, she wishes to pursue a career in digital journalism.